Greenwashing: Spot it and stop it

October 19, 2022 / by Lindsey Matejczyk

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Thought Leadership Post – From the series “Simplifying Sustainability”

Would you want to buy from a company that intentionally hides or miscommunicates key information about their products/services? We hope your answer would be no, but in many cases, customers don’t recognise when this is happening.

As consumers, we have the power to consider how our choices impact the people and world around us and, because of this, two-way conversations with businesses must be encouraged, whether that’s to understand more about their product or challenge them on their claims.

As businesses, we have the responsibility to tell the truth, communicate our services and products with accuracy and are now also bound by legal obligation to do so.

An increasing number of brands are being held under the microscope to assess their messages they and public outputs. Many of us will have seen the term greenwashing all over our news and social media, but what does it mean?

Greenwashing is any form of communication that promotes deceitful or misleading information about a company’s operations, services and products. It is harmful because it limits the consumers ability to make an informed decision on the product or service they are being advertised.

At JustOne, we want this to be an opportunity for businesses to embrace transparent communications. We know from the outset creating sustainability-focused communications can seem daunting, but we want to assure you that it doesn’t have to be. Whether you are a business owner, in sales or marketing, an activist or someone who is keen to learn how to spot and stop greenwashing, we have some steps for you.

Here are our 5 steps to spotting and stopping greenwashing:

1.Watch out for fluffy language and broad claims.

  • We need to be aware of companies that are vague, don’t bring clarity to their decisions and actions, and never seem to get to the point.
  • Words like ‘environmentally-friendly’, ‘kinder’, ‘greener’, and ‘sustainable’ can make it seem like a product has an overall positive impact. If these claims are true marketers must back them up with robust and the accurate evidence.

2.Be mindful of equivalents and comparisons.

  • Using equivalents can help audiences understand and visualise sometimes complex data, enabling them to grasp the impact a business has. Whilst equivalents and comparisons can be powerful, consumers should be on their guard to assess that they are being used correctly and truthfully.
  • Businesses should be clear what is being compared and how the comparison has been made. These claims should be based on recognised methodology and that the same aspects of a product or service are being compared.

3.Look for the evidence.

  • Evidence and research can be used to back up claims and show the consumer that statements are truthful. Evidence also enables us to gain in-depth knowledge about the things we buy, and has the power to share knowledge that can be helpful for other businesses to be aware of.
  • As communications are created, marketers must be mindful to research and save credible evidence that will inform what they say, and can back up any claim they make. The area of sustainability is ever-evolving, and even after the communication piece has gone out businesses should be careful to keep at pace with new evidence that comes out and reassess their claims in line with it. Many businesses look to external verification or validation of their communications. At JustOne, we provide this service to any client who requires an expert eye of the language they are using or the narrative they are telling.

4.Spot the gaps in the story.

  • Does it feel like the brand isn’t telling the whole story or is hiding key facts? Too often businesses focus on the minor benefits of a product/service and fail to take a step back and show the wider picture, especially when the bigger picture shows negative impacts.
  • Marketers need to be careful not to mislead consumers by over-emphasising the positive stories around relatively small impacts. When making claims businesses must be careful to bring into the picture the full lifecycle of a product or service and take into action the overall impacts. If you want to share a particular positive story about one aspect of the product, this must be presented in relation to the overall picture so that the consumer is well-informed.

5.Connect the dots.

  • Sustainability is not an easy thing to communicate, but when done well it can be very impactful. Your teams need to have a good grasp of current terms, trends and phrases to avoid greenwashing. Enable your sustainability and marketing and communications teams to work seamlessly together and have strong processes for collaboration in place.
  • Never forget the power of knowing who you are, and what your purpose is. Purpose-led communications come from the heart and aren’t used to continually churn out content with the hope of making profit.

While we understand that the concept of greenwashing avoidance can seem daunting to implement, JustOne is a team of passionate sustainability experts, and we can help you report and communicate your sustainability progress with confidence and accuracy.

Want to create honest and effective communications? Need some friendly support to ensure your messages are accurate? Email to book your free consultation today.

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